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Two for one: Cavs beat Wizards 113-108 in first game under J.B. Bickerstaff

The Cavs’ two young guards played aa big part in the team’s win.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Washington Wizards Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

That was a weird one with how much the Cavs came back down from, Kevin Porter Jr.’s ejection and J.B. Bickerstaff riding a lineup that didn’t feature either Kevin Love or Andre Drummond late. But the Cavs won 113-108 in Bickerstaff’s head coaching debut. Let’s get into it.

The young guns stood out

Tristan Thompson was again great in this game, and deserves a ton of credit. But looking ahead behind right now, Friday’s game was a good sign for the Cavs’ young core, as every healthy member of it contributed in some way:

  • Collin Sexton had a game-high 25 points to go along with two assists. He was much more composed in the second half after a shaky start
  • In a team-high 36 minutes, Darius Garland finished with 15 points and 4 assists. He looked as good as he has in maybe a month. This lob was one of his better reads of the entire season,
  • Porter Jr. made a few ridiculous passes — including this gem to a rolling Thompson — and was really impactful in all areas of the game before his ejection. He remains arguably the most interesting young Cavalier.
  • Dante Exum had 10 points, including eight straight at one point. He also played some very good defense on Bradley Beal in the second half.
  • Cedi Osman had 16 and 10, made three of his five three-point attempts and picked up Exum’s defense slack late when Exum went to the bench.

This are the kind of performances that create optimism about the guys the Cavs have right now.

Turnovers could have cost the Cavs

On most nights, the Cavs probably do not win this game. As a team, they had 22 turnovers, leading to 24 Wizards points. Per Cleaning The Glass, Cleveland’s performance Friday was in the bottom four percent of all single game performances in the NBA this year as sorted by turnover percentage. By comparison, Washington had 12 turnovers, leading to seven Cleveland points.

The biggest culprit by far was Drummond. He finished with a team-high seven turnovers; Porter Jr. was the next closest at four. Through three games, Drummond has been given something of a green light to drive and attack with the ball instead of only rim running, rolling to the rim and posting up. That is leading to the vast majority of his turnovers, so perhaps that green light should be switched to yellow or red going forward.

Does it matter that Love and Drummond sat late?

The short answer here is no. This was one game where a lineup of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Dante Exum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tristan Thompson got the Cavs back into and held onto the lead. Bickerstaff clearly rode what was working. It’s hard to blame him considering how bad Cleveland looked for parts of this game and he deserves praise for doing it. The energy and pace that unit played with really stood out and that group played just a big more under control.

Going forward, it’s also unlikely that happens over and over again. While Thompson in particular was great, there has to be value in getting Drummond late game reps to see how he performs. Love also remains the Cavs’ best option to run an offense through on most nights. So, take this as Bickerstaff leaning into what works to pick up a rare win.

Drummond finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds in 22 minutes, while Love finished with 9 points and 1 rebound in 23 minutes. Thompson finished with 10 points and 11 boards in 26 minutes; Nance had 13 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes.

Up next

Cleveland is back tomorrow in Miami against the Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m.